Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
Lately, I’ve been binge watching a Netflix show called “The Great British Bake Off.” It’s a familiar reality show format, with a group of contestants assembled to face a weekly baking challenge. After all but three of the amateur bakers are sent home, a grand finale is held where the final contestants vie for the grand prize – an engraved, footed cake platter.
What is not so familiar are the items that are baked. Sure, they’re vaguely similar to what we would find in a bakery or home kitchen here in the U.S.: cakes, pies and pastries, but all with a particularly British point of view. Banoffee pie, treacle tarts and Chelsea buns fill the screen, as I hungrily salivate. Sadly, my web searches for recipes for these treats have left me mostly unsatisfied given that recipes from England tend to be written in the metric system, use ingredients that are hard to find, and are baked using British techniques with which I’m not familiar.
All the goodies on the show look wonderful, but there’s one thing in particular that has haunted my dreams. In the opening credits of the show, a platter filled with the most scrumptious looking scones is sprinkled gently with powdered sugar before being placed – with British efficiency and precision – on a banquet table. With every episode I watched, those scones called my name, begging me to bring them to life.
Scones are actually very similar to American biscuits of the variety you find nestled with a piece of fried chicken, or smothered in sausage gravy on your breakfast plate. Biscuits pair equally well with sweet accompaniments (honey and a schmear of butter is a favorite of mine), and they are sturdy enough to hold a substantial filling, so I decided to try a few varieties of biscuits in my own kitchen to see what I could find.
Most biscuits rely on butter or shortening for a flaky texture. These types of biscuits are pretty simple to make and taste amazing, but I felt they might be just a bit heavy for the English country girl trapped inside me. Then I found a recipe for cream biscuits. They come together in a flash, and they are absolute perfection when used for the purposes of British dessert. In short, they’re perfect.
Because they rely on cream for fat, the biscuits aren’t particularly flaky, but they are melt-in-your mouth tender and soft. Because there is not any fat to “cut in,” a simple stir with a spoon is really all you need. After I baked them to a golden brown, I split them, filled them with strawberry jam and cream, sprinkled them with powdered sugar and bit in. Transformative.
Of course I can’t be sure that they’re as good as the ones on television across the pond, but armed with this recipe, I’d feel pretty good about marching into the competition with the other British bakers battling it out for the number one spot.
Come to think of it, that engraved cake plate would be the perfect piece for displaying my American jam-and-cream-filled scones!
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 ½ cups heavy cream
Jam or preserves, any flavor
Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt and sugar in a bowl until well mixed. Gently pour cream into mixture and stir just until all the moisture is incorporated and a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll or pat out into a rectangle about ½ inch high. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out biscuits and place on a lightly greased baking tray. Press the dough scraps together, pat or roll down to ½ ainch, and cut more biscuits. Discard any remaining scraps.
Bake biscuits for about 13 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow biscuits to cool slightly, then split and fill with a dollop of preserves and a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.